What Is a Refrain in Music?

A refrain is a line or lines that are repeated in music or verse, also known as the “chorus” of a song. English refrain originates in the Old French refraindre, in turn from Latin refrain, “song in which a single phrase is repeated”.

Its usage and significance have evolved over time, beginning with an exact repetition of all or most of the phrases in a poem or stanza.

The refrain was then shortened to four lines before being reduced to a single line. However, today, the refrain is generally understood to refer to the primary refrain or chorus of a song, although it may also be used to describe any recurrent refrain phrases in any context.

The refrain is not a verse, yet it is often considered one because the refrain has its own syntax and melody. In most cases, the refrain creates a general meaning of the song which remains unchanged from the beginning to the end of the song. The refrain is usually repeated after each verse and chorus, and the refrain is often placed near the end of a song.

Key Takeaways

  • A refrain, often synonymous with the “chorus” in modern music, is a repeated line or lines in music or verse, originating from Latin and Old French terms meaning “to repeat.”
  • Historically, the refrain has evolved from being a significant portion of a stanza to being reduced to just a few lines or a single line, primarily serving as the song’s main message or theme.
  • Unlike a chorus, which has a distinct musical theme, a refrain may vary in its musical delivery despite its repetitive nature, focusing more on the lyrics’ message than on a specific melody.
  • Refrains play a critical role in music by building listener expectations, enhancing the song’s rhythm, and evoking emotional responses, thereby facilitating a deeper connection and communication among listeners.
  • The concept of the refrain has a rich history, extending back to ancient Roman and Greek poetry and music, and has been a significant element in classical music, opera, and religious songs, among others.

Refrain vs Chorus

The refrain can be compared to the chorus because the refrain consists of words that express the basic message of the song, but the refrain differs from a chorus in terms of music and meaning.

The chorus has its own musical theme while the refrain does not. Even though the refrain is also often repeated, the refrain can be sung in different ways, while the chorus has its own music and melody that should be followed to sound like a proper chorus.

Main Use

Music has a variety of applications in today’s world, but its most essential purpose is to make us feel good and interact with one another. Music is a highly effective tool for socializing.

Music connects people while also allowing them to express themselves. It may help us relieve tension or even improve our health by stimulating the feel-good chemicals in the brain.

The use of refrains in music has several functions. One of them is to build expectations in the listener, who is waiting for a refrain to appear. Expectation has been shown to be an essential component of musical response in music psychology.

Repetition is one of the most essential instruments utilized by music composers to communicate with listeners since it can be used to accentuate feelings and thoughts. The refrain is usually the same as the song’s chorus. It might be a line, phrase, or set of phrases that are repeated numerous times throughout the piece.

A refrain in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, for example, evokes joy in music via a musical call and response. Refrains are found in opera, folk music, religious songs, and musical theater. There are several ways to use refrains to influence a song’s or piece of music’s rhythm, but it generally adds energy to the work.

History of Refrain

Refrain existed many years ago. The word refrain dates back to the late 14th century and is derived from French religiosity. It was formed by combining the Latin refrainre, which means “to repeat,” with the Latin refellere, which means “to restrain.” It has existed long before it became an established word in music.

The ancient Romans employed refrains in their poetry, singing ballads about Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar’s fights. When composing songs for theatrical performances, the ancient Greeks also used refrains.

In theater, the refrain has been employed for a long time. It’s also been seen in poetry and literature, including William Shakespeare’s writings. It was occasionally placed at the end of a line to indicate that it would no longer be sung but rather spoken.

The refrain was first seen being used in music when refrain songs emerged in the Middle Ages. Short phrases were used as a kind of music that became popular in Europe among religious people, who sang choral music, which was a long series of refrain songs sung by individuals who were standing in ranks and performing together.

Refrain in Classical Music

The refrain was developed in order to make songs more appealing. The definition of the refrain is a “phrased or verse that recurs at intervals in a poem.”

Refrain refers to phrases or sentences that are repeated again and again in order to emphasize certain ideas or emotions. Refrains add interest and appeal to songs by providing a twist of surprise when they are presented.

This approach has been utilized since the dawn of time, including in classical music. The refrain in Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his 9th Symphony is one example of a classic refrain, as well as opera arias like “Ave Maria.”

The refrain is a composer’s technique for generating balance and structure in classical music. A “Bridal Chorus” is a refrain in operas.


A refrain is a line or lines that are repeated in music or poetry, commonly known as the “chorus” of a song. The refrain has been used by composers for centuries as a technique to provide balance and structure.

It is also employed to increase the energy of a song or piece of music. Mozart even utilizes a refrain in his opera “Die Zauberflote” through the “Bridal Chorus.” Refrains have many functions, including adding expectations, providing energy, and evoking emotions.

The refrain in music has multiple uses, one of which is to build expectations in the listener. Another significant role refrain plays is to contribute rhythm to a song or piece of music.

Refrain existed many years ago and was seen being used in music when refrain songs emerged during the Middle Ages. The use of refrains in classical music began with its development in order to make songs more appealing.